By Maria Ortiz
Lake Superior College (LSC) is creating a more sustainable world and a more sustainable community and they’re doing it with worms! Over the past 12 years Theresa Hornstein and Deanne Roquet, biology instructors at LSC have been operating a prototype worm composting greenhouse.
Originally set-up in a storage building on campus this project has grown to incorporate more than just Biology students. In 2000 LSC’s construction students built super insulated greenhouse with wind and solar power to provide electricity. However, a little over a year ago the windmill was struck by lightening. The greenhouse uses the compost to heat the building with a backup, in floor hot water heating system. The varying forms of energy are meant to keep temperatures ideal for composting.
Worm Composting is the type of project that needs only to be set up once if done properly, although the bins do require regular feeding and occasional removal of the finished compost. LCS was lucky enough to have a student, Matt, working on the original stages of the project. At the time Matt was working for a local mall which was receiving a new roof. The old roofing material seemed to be the perfect waterproof recycled material for the lining inside of the composting bin. The collection of bacteria, worms, and other assorted organisms in the bin mix the materials and convert the food scraps to compost. The composting process itself generates heat and peak temperatures were recorded at 145 degrees Fahrenheit. The heat, then, keeps the greenhouse at or above 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
In addition to reducing waste and the college’s carbon footprint by composting food scraps and coffee grounds, the greenhouse is the site of student research. Past student projects have examined the amount of heat the composting generates, the ability of the compost to adjust pH levels, the levels of plant nutrients in the compost, rates of worm reproduction, and the breakdown of Styrofoam in the worm bin. The worm composting project also sells “worm juice” and compost as fertilizer and holds a spring plant sale with plants, primarily vegetables to encourage home gardening, grown in the compost. Plant sale proceeds go toward the Student Development Center’s scholarships.
LSC also runs worm bin workshops and provides public education materials to encourage more households to start composting themselves. Advertising for the workshops are done mostly by word of mouth. However for further outreach, the school billboard also advertises this event, Green 101. Community partners have been local schools, Cooper Elementary, a prison, and residents. Hornstein’s motto has been, “we play parents, getting them started and turning them lose.” LCS provides workshops, presentations, and advice as needed.